New Year’s Eve at the London Eye: What to Expect

New Year’s Eve in London, England, is one of the most exciting nights of the year.

As the clock strikes midnight, the bells of Big Ben ring out like a siren’s call through the streets of London. Each year, the sky above the Thames River comes alive with the glow of 10,000 fireworks. Not even the brightest evening stars can compete with the rainbow of colors that bursts through the darkness over the Coca-Cola London Eye as part of city’s largest annual fireworks display. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about New Year’s Eve in London, from how to get tickets to what you can expect on the big night.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

Plan Ahead

Many people think they can just show up on the day of the event and walk through the gates, but that simply isn’t so. You actually need to purchase tickets to the event, and you need to do it well in advance. In fact, tickets typically go on sale in late September and cost about £10 each. There are no guarantees you will be able to see the fireworks if you do not buy a ticket. Tickets sell out fast. I mean really, really fast. I bought my tickets the same day they went on sale, and already the prime viewing sections were sold out.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

There are six viewing areas for the event, which is officially known as the Mayor of London’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks. Each one provides its own unique view of the fireworks. It’s recommended that you think about how you will be traveling to and from the event before you choose a viewing area. Most main streets are closed down to public transportation, so you may have to walk quite a distance to reach your destination.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

When to Arrive

As noted previously, most streets are closed down to traffic, so plan to arrive early if you want to take public transportation to the main area. We chose to walk from our hotel. It was a lovely night, and the walk took only about 45 minutes. Based on my aforementioned Time’s Square experience, I was expecting massive crowds. As a result, I insisted we get to our designated entrance before the 8 p.m. opening time. I thought it would take hours to navigate the streets to our viewing area, but I was totally and utterly wrong.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

The streets were utterly empty until we got about a block away from the entrance. Then, suddenly, we were swallowed up by a massive, but very friendly, crowd until the entrance opened a short while later. When it did open, the guards let in only a few people at a time. We ended up standing should-to-shoulder with some very friendly people for about an hour, and it felt like time was standing still. There was a lot of pushing and shoving as we got closer and people became less patient. I was with my 60-something mother, and I was a bit concerned for her safety. That said, the people around us were quite protective and did their best to keep us out of harm’s way.

Pro Tip: Dress in layers. In our case, the temperatures were unseasonably warm, so I peeled off a few layers to keep from melting. But the weather could just as easily swing in the other direction. It doesn’t hurt to come prepared for anything.

What to Expect Inside

Once we finally made it through the gate, the staff made sure we actually had in our possession tickets and that we were in the correct viewing area. We then passed through a security check before making our way inside…which was actually outside, of course! I was pleasantly surprised by just how spacious the area was. I had plenty of room to dance and stretch out. At first, I assumed the crowds would fill in around us as the minutes ticked by, but that wasn’t the case.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

We didn’t wander too far from the gates, so I’m not sure how far our viewing area spanned in any one direction. There are no seats and no one tells you where to stand. It’s a free for all once you’re inside. A DJ spins tunes and pumps up the crowd, and there are a few vendors selling refreshments and souvenirs. We found a curb we could sit on for the next two hours while we waited for the official countdown to midnight. We chatted idly with the people around us and made a few new friends who were also visiting from other parts of the world.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

Pro Tip: You are only allowed to bring small bags inside the viewing area. You can have food and drink, including small amounts of alcohol — only enough for you to consume so make sure your friends bring their own beverages. There are also portable toilets on site, and there are enough of them that you won’t have to wait long to use them.

When Sparks Fly

I’ve celebrated New Year’s in cities all over the world, including the ultimate New York Time’s Square experience, and I can honestly say that London is my top choice to date. When Big Ben begins to chime and the first sparks ignite over the London Eye, the wave of energy that rips through the crowd is truly contagious. The 12-minute pyrotechnics show lights up the sky in time to a specially crafted custom soundtrack that dazzles every bit as much as the visual display.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

You’ll be blown away — literally and figuratively by the sheer volume of fireworks and quick clip of the fireworks as they explode across the sky. It’s a sight to behold and a memory to hold dear. I’ve popped in a few super poor-quality pictures to give you an idea of the experience, and while I am a professional photographer by trade, you would never know it. Admittedly, I was much more focused on watching the show and enjoying myself than getting the money shot. It was truly stellar. I’ve interspersed a few more impressive photos taken by others as well.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye  

Pro Tip: Look for benches within your line of sight. People will stand on those benches once the show begins, and you will not be able to see around them. We sat in the same spot for two hours only to have to find a new location once the show started for this very reason. It was especially awesome when they started taking selfies and were not even watching the show. 

Getting Home

The entire ordeal lasts only mere moments, but it’s worth every minute. And when the show’s over, it’s really over. In fact, there’s nothing left to see. Most people beeline for the exits and begin making their way to their next destination, which for us was the hotel. Streets that were open to traffic on our way to the show were now closed down to cars. We were in shock and awe to find even Piccadilly Circus at a standstill. But the streets were abuzz no less with pedestrians and partiers. We walked the entire way back to our hotel near Paddington Station. And while the trek took more than an hour, there were plenty of exciting sights and sounds along the way.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

For those of you wondering where I stay when I’m in London, it all depends on my budget. If money is no object —  which, let’s face it, is rare — I love to stay at Hazlitt’s Hotel in Soho. The upscale 1800s ambiance and boutique service is second to none, and the location near shopping, entertainment, and eateries is ideal. However, when I’m in need of a more budget-friendly accommodation, I turn to the Paddington Point A. Just a five-minute walk from Paddington Station, the location is perfect if you’re planning to take a few day trips by train to places such as Oxford or Windsor. The no-frills hotel is clean, the staff is friendly, and it’s only a 15-minute walk to the ever-popular Oxford Street.

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Parade Day

As an added bonus, for the past 30 years on January 1, the city hosts London’s New Year’s Parade. Starting at noon, more than 10,000 participants ranging from cheerleaders to marching bands and cultural performers strut their talent through some of London’s most popular places, including Trafalgar Square and the aforementioned Picadilly Circus. You can purchase seats — yes actual seats in bleachers — in advance so you can rest your feet and stay covered in the case of inclement weather. Or you can take your chances on the weather and find a place to stand on the sidelines at the last minute. Either way, it’s a fun way to spend the day, especially since many stores and attractions do not open on New Year’s Day.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

If you’re looking for a fun-filled New Year’s Eve experience that’s action-packed but not overcrowded, check out New Year’s Eve at the London Eye. You’ll be delighted and awed by the spectacular display. And if you’re up for it the next day, the London New Year’s Parade is worth checking out, too.

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New Year's Eve at the London Eye

Plan the Perfect Day Trip to Windsor Castle from London

A day trip to Windsor Castle from London is a fun and easy way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city for a few hours.

 

Located just 30 miles from London, Windsor is a cozy community steeped in a rich royal history. Home to the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world, as well as a bevy of unique boutiques and bistros, Windsor is the kind of place where you can while away the hours simply strolling the charming city streets or enjoying high tea in the afternoon.

Day Trip to Windsor Castle from London

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Getting There

Making your way to Windsor Castle from London couldn’t be any easier. Trains run every 30 minutes from Paddington Station, one of the busiest train stations in the city. You’ll find easy-to-use electronic ticket kiosks inside the doors of the station where you can purchase your ticket to Windsor & Eton Central station. If you need assistance, simply locate one of the many staff members, and they’ll happily lend a hand.

Once you’ve purchased your ticket, look for the departures boards to find out when the next train arrives and which platform to catch it on. Some trains leave later but make more stops, so be sure to look for the fastest overall route. After about 30 minutes onboard, you’ll need to transfer trains at Slough station. It’s a very small station with only four platforms, so it’s pretty easy to get around. Upon arrival, check the departures signs to find out when the next Windsor-bound train arrives and which platform it will be on. They run very often, so if you just miss one, don’t fear. Another one will come soon, and the ride from Slough only to Windsor takes only 5 minutes. The entire trip takes about 40 minutes total, including the transfer.

Day Trip to Windsor Castle from London

windsor castle

Pro Tip: If your schedule is flexible, purchase a ticket for off-peak travel. The trains will be less crowded and more affordable. An off-peak return ticket costs only about £12.

Things to Do

With of population of just over 32,000, Windsor has all the charm of a small town, but thanks to its very important royal residents, it’s got no shortage of things to do. Of course, Windsor Castle, best known these days as the site of Prince Harry and Meghan Marke’s nuptials, is the city’s main attraction. As one of the three official homes of the queen, the stately 900-year-old castle is a sight to behold.

windsor castle

When you get off the train, basically all you need to do is walk forward straight out of the station, and you’ll be within steps of the castle gates. Just follow the signs—it’s that easy. Depending on the time of year, the hours of operation change ever so slightly, but you can typically expect to find it open between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. during the peak season.

windsor castle

Though I’m born and raised in Canada, my grandma was from England, so I’m all about the royals, but I opted not to go inside. By 10 a.m., the line to get in was about a block long, and the cost of admission is hefty at more than £21 per ticket. I settled for a long-distance look from outside the castle walls. If you do intend to go inside, expect to spend between 90 minutes and three hours exploring the castle.

windsor castle

windsor castle

Shop Til You Drop

Aside from the castle, you’ll find plenty of ways to spend your hard-earned cash in Windsor. All around the castle, you’ll find sho-lined streets where you can purchase royal-themed souvenirs or one-of-a-kind gifts. The railway station itself is home to Windsor Royal Shopping. Open seven days a week, the shopping center features 40 brand-name retailers and a solid mix of restaurants and cafes.

windsor castle

windsor castle

Be sure to hit up Peascod Street, which is steps away from the train station and runs south-west from the entrance of Windsor Castle. The pedestrian street boasts a number of unique boutiques and eateries. In addition to cute side streets and alleyways, other nearby shopping streets include High Street and Thames Street.

Day Trip to Windsor Castle from London

windsor castle

windsor castle
windsor castle

windsor castle

Windsor Yards Shopping Centre is located in King Edward Court, just steps away from the central train station. A variety of well-known retailers, such as Zara and Topshop, have set up shop here.

windsor castle
windsor castle
Afternoon Tea

Before heading back to London, enjoy afternoon tea at one of the many local eateries. I highly recommend pampering yourself with a mouthwatering meal at the luxurious Madame Posh on Peascod Street. I just dare you to walk by the window featuring all of the restaurant’s decadent delicacies without stopping to try one. I can’t even tell you how long it took me to get a picture of the window without a hoard of people ogling all of the desserts inside. While the restaurant does offer a delicious afternoon tea, I was in the mood for a savory crepe, or galette. And I simply couldn’t pass up the lemon meringue tarts. I ate outside at one of the faux-fur-lined tables. Both the atmosphere and the food were to die for. It was the perfect way to top off our day trip to Windsor Castle from London.

windsor castle

windsor castle

windsor castle

Day Trip to Windsor Castle from London

Pro Tip: Plan to spend anywhere from four to eight hours roaming the city’s main attractions and another hour for travel time on your day trip to Windsor Castle from London. We left Paddington Station at around 9:30 a.m. and returned at about 4:30 p.m. 

Windsor is just one of the many great day trips you can take from Paddington Station in London. For this reason, I recommend staying in the vicinity if you’re planning to get outside the city several times during your stay. The Point A Hotel London Paddington is a budget-friendly hotel that’s only a 5-minute walk from the station. Though it has only a two-star rating by hotel standards, most reviewers give it four or five stars on TripAdvisor. The rooms are spacious, clean, and recently renovated. If you like a little more luxury, I highly recommend Hazlitt’s Hotel. Located in Soho, it’s a bit of a trek to Paddington Station, but you’ll love its haunted history and quirky charms.

Where are your favorite places to visit in Windsor? What places have you traveled to from Paddington Station? Let us know in the comments section!

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Day Trip to Windsor Castle from London

Afternoon Tea at Covent Garden: A Wanderlust Experience

Covent Garden is the place to be for an affordable afternoon tea in London.

 

There are few things I enjoy more than a traditional afternoon tea. All those pretty sandwiches and dainties are simply delightful. So as soon as I knew I was traveling to London, England, I began researching afternoon teas. And I found the most adorable Alice in Wonderland option at a high-class hotel. It came with a mighty hefty price tag, but I decided to treat myself and reserved a seat. Sadly, 24 hours before I was scheduled to fall down the rabbit hole with Alice, I received an email stating the tea had been canceled. So, I set out in search of an alternative.

As I walked along, I passed the B Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, a vintage, red double-decker bus that takes you past London’s best-known sights as you enjoy your tea. I also took note of the lovely spread Patisserie Valerie advertised in its windows adorned with scrumptious delights. Shop after shop, it seemed there dewas no end to the abundance of afternoon tea options. And while many caught my eye, none were quite right, so I kept walking.

Finally, I came upon one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in London, Covent Garden Market. It is comprised of a delightful mix of unique boutiques, kitschy kiosks, and fabulous foods. And many vendors offer a version of afternoon tea. But one adorable little bakery stood out to me, Sweetheart Cake and Bake Shop.



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Located in a tiny shop tucked into a corner on the lower level of Covent Garden, this adorable little bakery is everything you hope a cupcake shop will be. From pastel-colored accents, dangling chandeliers, and froufrou wall art, I just about melted the minute I set eyes on this place. And for just £18, you can enjoy an afternoon tea that lives up to every expectation you might have. The best part is that no reservations are needed. Simply show up anytime between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. any day of the week, and they’ll be happy to serve you. Though the shop is just wee, there are a handful of seats inside, or you can choose to sit outdoors and enjoy the live entertainment from the Covent Garden buskers.

What to Expect

When you arrive, simply head straight to the counter, and tell the server you would like to have the afternoon tea. The server will ask where you plan to sit, as well as what type of tea you would like. You’ll also get to select a cupcake flavor from their robust selection of about a dozen different types.

A few minutes after you’re comfortably seated, the server will bring your pot of tea. Because this is a not a formal tea and everything is made to order, it will take a bit of time for the chef to prepare your spread. They make each and every sandwich fresh for you. And it’s well worth the wait. About 15 minutes after I was first seated, the server set a proper three-tiered china dainty stand on my table. It was filled with all sorts of delectable delights, and I could barely wait to dig in.

To be honest, there is enough food to share with another person. But I hadn’t eaten a thing all day in anticipation of this moment and was hungry enough to eat a horse. I started with the bottom tier, which contained a traditional cucumber and egg salad sandwich on whole wheat bread with the crusts cut off. Next up was a sweet brioche topped with a vegetarian spread. Lastly, there was a savory tart filled with a salmon cream and smoked salmon that was to die for.

Afternoon tea simply wouldn’t be complete without a traditional English scone. And that’s just what was awaiting me on the center tier of the tray. With a side of jam and clotted cream, it was everything I’d hoped it would be. And finally, the top tier with its sweet treats was the pièce de résistance. In addition to the cupcake of my choice—red velvet with cream cheese frosting—there was a tiny fruit tart filled with a creamy custard and three small homemade chocolates. My sweet tooth was completely sated by the time I took my last bite.

Each tier of my afternoon tea tray was a feast for the senses, and I got to listen to a beautiful string quartet play while I ate. It was a wonderful way to spend part of my afternoon. If you are looking for an affordable afternoon tea that you can visit on a whim and serves up scrumptious fare, this is an amazing option. And don’t worry if you can’t eat it all—your server will be more than happy to box it up for you.

Pro tip: Start with the foods that won’t keep as well, such as the clotted cream and salmon tart. That way, you don’t have to worry about any of your leftovers spoiling while you’re wandering about the rest of the market later in the day.

Do you have a favorite place to enjoy afternoon tea in London. Share your ideas with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

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afternoon tea

3 Ways to Travel Europe Cheap

There are so many great ways you can travel Europe cheap.

 

So you want to see as much of Europe as you can, but you have limited time and money. Lucky for you, there are a lot of options for getting around Europe for not a lot of money. Follow these easy tips make the most of your European travel budget.

1. Fly Someplace Central

One of the best things about Europe is its compact size. You can get to so many different places fast. But what’s even better? Europe is known for its budget airlines. On a good day, you can get a flight for just a few dollars. A great way to travel cheap is to fly into a central, or hub, city, and then catch a flight someplace else from there. Look for the cheapest deal. If you have time to see a few places, simply look for cheap flights from one city to the next. Another option is to take a train from the hub city. Europe’s rail system is unparalleled. It’s fast, frugal, and easy. It’s especially great for travel within a single country. You can get from Venice to Rome for just a few dollars. And it’s faster than traveling to the airport and waiting for a flight.

For a recent vacation, I found a super cheap flight deal to London Gatwick. As much as I love London, I’ve been there a lot, so I wanted to spend part of my vacation in another country. I found a flight deal to Algarve, Portugal, where I stayed for five days before returning to London for the rest of my trip.

2. Business Travel Advantage

Do you travel for work? If you ever fly overseas, consider tacking a few vacations days onto the beginning or end of your trip. Your company will pay for you to fly overseas, and from there, the world is your oyster. You’ll need to pay out of pocket for airfares and accommodations in any other places you visit, but usually the most expensive part of a trip to Europe is the flight overseas. The rest is just frosting, and you can always find a good deal on the extras, like hotels and activities.

I used to fly to Frankfurt each year for work. I would fly in a few days early and immediately dash off to a different destination. One year, I got a $30 flight to Athens. Another year, it was Prague. The options are endless.

3. Rent a Boat

A great way to travel Europe cheap is by boat with cheap boat rentals . With so many canals and rivers running throughout Europe, there are quite a few companies that offer affordable boat rentals. For a few hundred dollars a week, you can be the captain of your own adventure. Whether you travel via traditional penichette in France or narrowboat in England, your rental fee covers both your transportation costs and accommodations for your entire vacation. Not to mention, you can moor up just about anyplace you want, giving you the opportunity to check out villages and towns you might not otherwise have known existed. And you can save even more money by cooking your own meals on the boat.

These are just a few great ways to travel Europe cheap. What other ideas do you have? Join the conversation by becoming a member of the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.